If You Hide It, They Will Come

Treasure hunting goes 21st-century in the gadget-filled game known as geocaching



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When I was a little girl, I loved to play hide-and-seek. Some of my friends liked to hide, others liked to seek, but I loved to do both. So you can imagine how excited I was when a friend introduced me to the high-tech hide-and-seek game called geocaching.

Played all over the world (even in Antarctica), the game’s fundamental concept is easy: participants use a Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver to locate “caches” — a waterproof container of some type that holds a logbook and amusing knickknacks — which have been placed there by another player. The cache’s waypoints (longitude and latitude) are posted on the Web site www.geocaching.com. In the Hudson Valley, there are hundreds of caches hidden in tree stumps, under bridges, around historic monuments, and in parks. Cachers (as we are called) have even been known to hide these treasures underwater (so you have to dive to find them); others place them on islands, which require using a boat to reach. Once you start playing, you’ll see that caches can be hidden almost anywhere.

My first geocaching experience took place during a trip to Tillamook, Oregon, while I was visiting my friend, Sunni. It was she who turned me on to the game. “Geocaching,” she explained, “stands for ‘geo,’ as in geography, and ‘cache,’ as in something hidden. Don’t worry, you’ll love it.” She tossed me some pages she had printed from the Web site. They showed the name of the cache we would hunt for, its waypoints, a Google map, some history about the location, the difficulty of the terrain, the size of the cache, a few hints from the person who hid it, and some tips from cachers who had already found it.

Sunni was right: after uncovering that first cache, I was hooked. But it wasn’t an easy find. Located near a World War II naval air hangar-turned-museum, the cache — a six-inch container that the site said was painted green — was surprisingly well-hidden. According to Sunni’s GPS, we were within 20 feet of it, but we just couldn’t find the darn thing. The museum’s caretaker’s house was within the GPS parameters, so we poked around. We snooped under the stoop; peered inside a garden hose with a flashlight; jiggled a stick up into the downspout; and opened the caretaker’s trash can, thinking that maybe it was glued to the underside of the lid. Nothing.

As soon as I got home, I bought a
new pair of hiking boots, ordered my first GPS receiver,
and immersed myself in the geocaching Web site

Even my experienced mentor was perplexed. To make matters worse, visitors on their way into the museum began staring at us. Sunni winked at me, and started pretending that her GPS was a cell phone in an effort to divert their gazes. “We don’t want the cache to be Muggled,” she said to me.

“Muggled?” I asked.

“We borrowed the term from the Harry Potter books,” she explained. “It means there’s an outsider in the vicinity. Sometimes Muggles can innocently remove a cache, which sort of messes up the game. So we usually stop looking and do something else, like pretend we’re looking for our car keys.”

About 15 minutes later, Sunni let out a yell. “Did you find it?” I asked. She nodded and indicated a little bush, which I was certain I had looked through. “It’s cammoed (camouflaged) really well,” she said. “Look at the way they painted the plastic to blend into the greens of the bush and the yellows of the flowers.” There were a few kids’ toys in the cache, as well as the log. We signed it with our caching “pen names,” wrote TNLN (Took Nothing, Left Nothing), and put it carefully back into its hiding place. I couldn’t wait to return to New York to see what was hidden close to my own backyard. As soon as I got home, I bought a new pair of hiking boots, ordered my first GPS receiver, and immersed myself in the geocaching Web site. I quickly learned that there is more than one type of cache.

 

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